JCN&M Study Shows How Going Online Will Improve Accuracy in Free or Reduced Price Meal Applications


The following is the second in a series of news stories examining each of the JCN&M papers in the Spring 2017 Issue.

Fill out the application and return it. That is the message school nutrition staff give to parents every year who want to apply for free or reduced priced (F-RP) lunches.

Yet, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), certification errors, meal-claiming errors and aggregate errors were identified to cost the federal government more than $1.16 billion (9.8% of the total expenditure) from the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and $336 million (11% of the total expenditure) from the School Breakfast Program (SBP) through improper payments made during the 2012-13 academic year. More significantly, the USDA found that the majority of these payment errors, or 80%, were certification errors that resulted in students receiving higher levels of benefits which they were entitled. Two-thirds of the certification errors in 2012-13 were due to errors in household income reporting.

The NSLP and the SBP were designed to ensure that all children have access to nutritious and balanced meals. In the 2015 academic year, the USDA claimed the NSLP served an average of 30.5 million lunches daily; of those 72.1% were F-RP.

A new study in the Research in Action category in latest issue of SNA’s The Journal of Child Nutrition & Management concludes that accuracy might be improved and staff time reduced if school nutrition programs were able to accept both online and paper applications. The objective of Free and Reduced-Price Meal Application and Income Verification Practices in School Nutrition Programs in the United States, was to explore the activities and personnel involved in F-RP meal application and verification procedures in the school nutrition programs (SNPs) across the U.S. Results of the study conducted by Junehee Kwon, PhD, RD; Yee Ming Lee, PhD, RD, CHE; Eunhye Park, MS; Yujia Wang, MS and Keith Rushing, PhD, RD, revealed that the application and verification processes required a significant number of personnel and hours of time and SNPs need to practice due diligence when receiving and processing paperwork.

Specifically, data from the study illustrated that in SNPs where online applications were accepted, the sequential processes were much simplified as parents entered information directly without going through a variety of personnel who might receive the information from students or parents and pass it on to SNP staff. In addition, SNPs using online F-RP meal application systems were able to accept applications throughout the year, as opposed to many paper-based only SNPs, that only accepted applications during enrollment periods.

Among the recommendations, the authors of the study suggest school foodservice professionals earn an SNS (School Nutrition Specialist) Credential, which reflects USDA professional standards, including program management and accountability training for accurate meal application and verification, as well as teaching the district reporting structure. Among the pinnacle objectives of the Administration Key Area of the SNS, is analyzing the regulations for processing household F-RP meal applications.

About The Journal of Child Nutrition & Management:
The Journal of Child Nutrition & Management (JCN&M) is the exclusive source for research findings in this profession, and it features a variety of studies in the following four categories: Research in Action, Current Issues, Practical Solutions and FNS Research Corner. Published twice a year, this peer-reviewed research journal is available free of charge, online only. Read the current issue today.

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